Interview: Saga of Lucimia on themepark design, SWG inspiration, and the MMO genre


Last week, we ran an interview with Stormhaven Studios’ Tim Anderson, the boss behind upcoming MMORPG Saga of Lucimia. That interview was focused on top-level development plans. This week, we’re releasing the second half of the lengthy interview, which focuses more on the game’s themepark design – like grouping and crafting – as well as on the game’s future place in the genre and even some of its Star Wars Galaxies inspirations. Enjoy!

MassivelyOP: Stormhaven has been very blunt about its belief that MMO players have forgotten how to group and will definitely need to sharpen up their social skills to put teams together that are capable of taking on the game’s PvE challenges; death is painful here, the game world is super dangerous, and you won’t be soloing your way to the top. And yet if I recall right, you’re still planning to have a basic LFG tool (a notice board, right?) in the game, so you’re not just dumping the last 15 years of game dev lessons and player QOL into a ditch either. Can you talk about the importance of grouping in the game – and also what you’re adding to make old-school mechanics more palatable?

Saga of Lucimia’s Tim Anderson: I’m glad I have the chance to clear up any misunderstandings there may be on the subject. There were a lot of quotes that people took from blog posts over our site, rather than coming and sitting down with us and interviewing us, which has led to quite a few things being taken completely out of context. So let’s dive in.

In EverQuest, you could solo your way to the cap. You could create a character and level it all the way to 50 in the launch game without ever stepping foot into a dungeon, and without ever going on a raid. Granted, you would miss out on a boatload of content (storyline, dungeons, etc.), but you could absolutely play EverQuest as a solo player.

The same with vanilla World of Warcraft. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes. EverQuest II. The launch version of Lord of the Rings Online. Lots of ways to level your character and progress even if you played solo, but the group and raid content required you to group up with fellow players.

Our game is designed in the same way. You can create a character and progress your character and their skills all the way to the cap without ever stepping foot into a dungeon and without ever grouping up with another person or ever participating in a raid. Or you can duo or trio your way through the game.

But you’ll be missing out on a whole lot of game content in terms of storyline, dungeons and etc. So any time that I have stated that our game is a group-based game and that we are focused on creating group-based content, that’s what I’m really talking about: storyline and lore. There’s only so much you’ll see and experience if you play as a solo or duo player, just like every other MMORPG out there. And that’s fine for some people; not everyone wants to do dungeons or raid.

Tim Anderson: A real life example that I love to use is competing in an Olympic group sport; take your pick. Let’s say baseball. Now, I can absolutely go play baseball myself anytime that I want. I can buy a bat, go to a batting cage, and I can get better at swinging that bat over time without ever needing to do anything with another person. I can also just as easily toss a ball with my friend at the park without ever needing to join a team.

But if I ever want to have the chance to participate in the Olympics, I have to be willing to do a variety of things. First and foremost, I have to be willing to put in the time and the effort to not only get better at my own game, but to learn how to play with a team of other people (that “group based” content we often talk about).

I then have to be willing to work my way up through the ranking system from the minor leagues to the major leagues and then so on and so forth until I make it to the Olympics, all while working within the construct of a team; I’m not going to make it to the Olympic team if I try to solo my way there. It’s a team-based sport.

In essence, we’re talking solo play, group play, and then raiding, with raids being the Olympic-level participation.

At no point in time do I have to do any of that if I just want to go to the park with a friend of mine and throw a baseball around or go to a batting cage and hit the ball. But the option exists so that if I do want to take it to that level of elite performance, I can go out there and put in the time and effort and achieve that maximum level of baseball.

So when I talk about group-based content and the fact that you need a group to complete the bulk of the content of our game, that’s what we’re talking about: storyline content and quests.

But it’s all optional. We don’t have experience points in our game, there are no levels in our game (only abilities and their progression), and quests are done for the purpose of lore, gear, faction, and gated content. They are entirely optional, and players can absolutely log into the game and create their own adventure with their friends if they want to. Like maybe they just want to be bear hunters and that’s with the three of them do with their time as they log in on Friday nights, hunt bears down, and sell their pelts to other players.

Which is why we’re far more interested in creating a world with rich lore as a backdrop. Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms are settings, and Lucimia, for us, is a setting. How players choose to adventure within that setting is entirely up to them. We have of course provided a ruleset for them to use if they want to (quests, dungeons, raids), but they are equally capable of going off-book and creating their own adventures within that world, using our setting as the basis for their adventures without necessarily adhering to our ruleset.

Tim Anderson: The main difference, and why so many people have given us the label “hardcore” is that we aren’t allowing you to solo dungeons and quest chains like you can in ESO, for example. You need a group if you want to experience the content we have created.

In terms of tools to help players find groups, we’re are actually working with a LFG/LFM panel. In essence, you’ll be able to put yourself into the system as looking for a group, or if you are a group looking for more people you can put that into the system, and then players can pull up that panel from anywhere in the world and proceed to have a conversation with people and negotiate the terms of the group.

We also have some limited fast travel, which we can’t talk about quite yet other than to say it’s sort of a hybrid model of EverQuest with the wizard spires/druid rings, and World of Warcraft’s portal stones (where X amount of players need to be at the stone to summon other group members), which will further help facilitate players coming together for those moments when they want to do group content together.

As far as the death penalty goes, we actually don’t have death in our game, and if you’ve watched the most recent stream we did for the 3rd preview for Stage Three, we revealed the current mechanic, which is a combination of wounds and leaving a backpack with your inventory (not your equipped gear) out in the wild. So there are no corpse runs or any of those “hardcore” death mechanics at play.

We do want death to sting a bit because we don’t want players zerging content. Our game is about tactics and strategy and playing well with your group as opposed to just bull-rushing into content and expecting to be able to DPS your way through every encounter. But it’s not nearly as hardcore as old games, and we’ve worked hard with our existing community to come up with a system that does sting a bit but isn’t overly prohibitive.

I’m a crafter lately, so I have to ask this one. A while back you discussed Lucimia’s 8-person parties and specifically noted that “the ideal makeup is a main tank, a main healer, utility + crowd control, couple of DPS, and then a couple of crafters” to round everything out. Eyebrows in the air, right? That’s SWG-esque, and clearly on purpose. Can you discuss your plans for this – how exactly will crafters contribute in groups to the degree that they’ll be wanted over, say, a backup healer or extra deeps?

So on the crafting note, I’m not at liberty to talk about the full details of what we have in mind for the crafting system, because this is one of the systems that is going to be evolving heavily over time, both between now and launch, and then post launch leading up to the first expansion, and it really sets us apart from other games, past, present, and in development.

First and foremost, crafters in our game are far more important than any other MMORPG in existence (which I think I’m required to state by default as every other game that has come before has said it as well). And yes, Star Wars Galaxies is a huge inspiration for us in terms of our crafting system.

In most games, crafting is just something they throw in there so that you can have something to do in your spare time. In our game, crafting is essential, and even required, for many things. As an example, when you go into a dungeon you may come across puzzles such as a door that needs to be gotten past. You may not have a thief in your party who can pick the lock on the door, but you might have a smith who has his smithing hammer and a chisel who can knock the hinges off the door. Or a drawbridge with the locking mechanism frozen in place and the only way is to either have someone strong enough to break it free, or an engineer in your party who knows how to fiddle with things and has the right skill levels to wrangle that gear into working.

Because we don’t have any recall option back to town (but some abilities allow certain players with said abilities to port around if they have the reagents/etc.), players will need to rely on crafters to repair their gear when they are on the longer sessions that we typically refer to as campaigns.

To give you a better explanation of this, we are really going back to the early days of EverQuest again with our dungeon design in the sense that dungeons are massive, and are not meant to be cleared in a matter of 15 to 30 minutes. Think Mistmoore as an example; you could go in in your late teens and stay until your mid-forties. We had a group one time that did six weeks just in this dungeon, sending our druid back to town every evening to sell all the loot for the group while the rest of us remained camped inside and we progressed every couple of sessions deeper and deeper until we had cleared the whole zone.

Because you can’t recall back to town easily, when you are on these longer adventuring sessions where you are playing for several hours you need to rely on your crafters to keep your gear up to snuff.

Crafters also create things like campfire starter kits, torch kits, lantern materials, bandages, wound-healing salves, and more. And while you could stock up on these things before leaving town, our inventory system is very limited, so having crafter in your party to make things out in the field means you can go longer without having to return to town, potentially across multiple sessions.

We’ve often talked about our 8-man party system, but the reality is that we are not designing dungeons to require 8 combat-based adventurers. Instead, most content is geared towards 5-6 players in terms of difficulty, with your last group spots filled by crafters and utility-based players who are there in your group not to necessarily help you with DPS, but are there to help you solve puzzles in dungeons and keep your gear repaired until such time as you can get back to town.

That’s not to say that crafters and the utility builds won’t be able to contribute to the group. They absolutely can, either via their own adventuring abilities (should they choose to level those up), or via alternative means like lobbing flame pots and poison potions or smoke bombs/etc and running around bandaging wounded party members.

Crafters also make almost all the gear in our game. Again, think back to early EverQuest: A set of banded armor could, and did, take many players all the way into the raid zones. Which for some could be months of wearing mundane gear sets.

Until such time as players are completing dungeons and seeking out those rare relic items, mundane armor is the best in the game. And, considering that all relic gear has charges that can run out over time, crafters are vital in keeping an adventurer kitted out even up to and through raids.

Certain quests also require specific items that can only be crafted by crafters with specific skills; our game is very much about interdependency between adventurers and crafters.

The other thing we’re doing is we are taking a note from Vanguard’s book, and we are working on group-based harvesting, so that players who go out and harvest as a group will obtain more/better/etc. options than those who harvest solo.

There’s also a lot more that I would love to talk about but we can’t just yet, because there are things about our crafting system that are so unique to the MMORPG industry that we just can’t share them, and also because it’s gonna take us a lot more engineering time to get there. Some things won’t happen for launch but will roll out over time. Especially as we bring magic back to the realm in Volume II.

We are in the earliest stages of our crafting system presently with Stage Three alpha, so there’s a long way to go. We’re currently on the first iteration of the system, so visually a lot will change in terms of the minigame and etc. between now and launch, but I can say the system itself is heavily inspired by Star Wars Galaxies in terms of how materials work and how they affect the end results.

Non-combat toons in combat situations isn’t the only thing you seem to be borrowing from SWG: You’ve also got a wounds and battle fatigue system. How do you foresee this type of “designed downtime” working in the new decade? And how will you balance it so it’s not a drag on players such that they spend more time recovering than fighting?

Through many hours of play testing with our early access community in alpha and beta. Seriously, though, that’s really the only way that we can make sure that the system works the way we wanted to and is fun without being prohibitive.

I mentioned earlier that early access community has really helped us with taking things from paper and helping us test them in the game to make sure they still are fun, and then tweaking things as needed, and the wound/battle fatigue system in particular is something that has been extremely well received.

We will continue to tweak it as needed over the course of alpha and beta, but it’s in a pretty good place right now based on years of testing, so we feel that we’ve got a pretty good handle on the balance between something that works as a designed downtime mechanic, without being seen as boring or drudgery.

It’s also a great way to find time for a bio or take the dog out or squeeze in 100 jumping jacks.

Have you folks been keeping an eye on other modern MMORPGs’ legacy servers? I remember a few years ago you said you were excited that Blizzard was building WoW Classic, for example, but I wonder what you think about the way the launched version of Classic was received (and is currently faring). Is your team taking anything away from watching players dabble in older design once more?

This partially answers your questions from above regarding designed downtime/etc. working in the new decade. In other words, old-school mechanics in the modern era. And if there’s one thing I think I’ve taken away over the last couple of years of watching major game media sites talk about what many people consider to be “hardcore” or “old school” features, one of my favorites was watching outlets like PC Gamer and Polygon praise games like Red Dead Redemption II or Assassin’s Creed Odyssey for having an option to turn off the mini map and instead force yourself to immerse your mind in the world and pay attention to directions and landmarks to find your way around as opposed to everything always being on easy mode.

Because that’s one of our “features.” We don’t have a mini map. It just doesn’t make sense for us in the fantasy world that we are building. If we were creating a science-fiction game with some type of HUD or the like, absolutely you would have some type of Google map GPS system, but the one element we always appreciated from the early MMORPGs was that sense of immersion from not necessarily knowing where you were at any given time.

Darkness is another mechanic in our game (and we loved how it worked in Outward as well) that we’ve been touting for nigh-on five years now, with torches and lanterns and other consumable light sources a required component for adventuring in the wild and the depths of dungeons. Dipping our toes into the survival aspect of gaming without going so deep as to require food/drink or worrying about heat/cold.

Having spent the last six months playing WoW Classic, I was also extremely pleased to see how well people reacted to being required to socialize rather than rely upon a matchmaker system to find groups. I also appreciated Blizzard’s stance on not allowing any type of matchmaking add-ons to be used; they really wanted people focusing on that social aspect.

We’ve also played many of the major legacy servers out there; our gaming community has done EverQuest progression servers twice, EverQuest II progression servers once, the LOTRO Legendary server, and WoW Classic.

We definitely see some patterns and things that we can apply to our own game, but more than anything else I think they are just a great way for these companies to supplement their income streams by providing players with yet another option to play games.

There’s nothing wrong with providing your customers with lots of different options, as long as they fit within the scope and design of your game/company.

Finally, where do you folks see Lucimia sitting in the grand scope of the MMORPG genre? If I can be honest for a sec here, when Lucimia was first announced, I did not think it would get far, but here we are and now you seem to be on track to compete with modernized throwback PvE themeparks like Pantheon. Where do you fit in to the matrix of MMOs – who, precisely, is your audience? And do you think that audience is big enough to sustain it – or are you OK with “niche”?

Without getting into a lot of data here, there are still well beyond 100 million players who prefer MMORPGs as opposed to console titles or mobile titles. Certainly not the hundreds of millions that are playing consoles or mobile games, but still an extremely large consumer base, large enough that we wouldn’t consider calling it “niche.”

The short answer to “who is your audience”, is basically anyone who enjoys a good fantasy based PVE game. Because whether you are talking about World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV, Lord of the Ring Online, EverQuest, EverQuest II, or beyond, there are still plenty of fantasy based MMORPGs on the market that are doing well for themselves, regardless of which business model they are pursuing.

They might not all have tens of millions of subscribers, but they are providing entertainment to a large enough audience that they are able to maintain a team of passionate people who are working at continually adding new content to these titles.
There are a lot of good case studies, such as Black Eye Games and Gloria Victis. A small company, with a game that many Internet critics would claim is “ugly” with “crappy animations” and other similar complaints, yet they have sold enough copies over the years to grow their team from around 8 people up to around 18, the last time I checked; they did a press release last year and I’m quoting from memory, so don’t hold me to the exact numbers. But by all accounts, a successful company with a product that is finding more than enough of an audience to not only continue developing the game, but to add more team members.

We are also far more than just the MMORPG. The first novel was published in late 2018, and I’m currently working on the second. The intent with our world is to create a shared universe much like Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, and we have already had discussions with several authors to come in and work on additional trilogies set in the world of Lucimia.

We are also working on a tabletop version. Which is kind of ironic because this all started off as a tabletop campaign when I first wrote it for AD&D years ago in 1999-2000.
We are far more interested in creating a world and universe that players enjoy across a variety of mediums as opposed to only a video game. Obviously the MMORPG is our flagship product, but it’s not the only egg in our basket, and it’s not the only thing we’re focused on as a company.

So for us, it’s not about trying to become the next “big thing.” It’s not about trying to be the “savior of the MMORPG industry.” It started off as us just wanting to build a game that we thought would be fun to play, based on my AD&D world and book outlines, and along the way we’ve gone from being a title that everyone thought would be a failure because the team behind it lacked any previous development experience, to becoming one of the more anticipated PvE games currently in development and being listed among up-and-coming games like Pantheon.

Which, I should add, our entire team can’t wait to play and we regularly discuss with our community over in Discord (along with many other games; our gaming community has been playing together for five years now and we are passionate about all MMORPGs). We don’t view them as competition; rather, we celebrate the fact that they, and so many other games, are being created. What a world to live in where we can choose from hundreds and thousands of games compared to when I was growing up and gaming was still extremely niche!

Neither do we view Shroud of the Avatar as competition, or Lord of the Rings Online, or World of Warcraft, or Camelot Unchained, or any other game out there. People don’t just play one title anymore; they play many titles. And it would be incredibly naive of us to try and think of ourselves as the “one game to save them all.” The reality is that we are going to be right there in the mix and people will play our game at the same time that they play Pantheon, or CU, or COE, or AoC, or the new Dune game, at the same time they are playing Last of Us III or Dragon Age 5 or etc., or they will switch between one title for a few months and then back to our title for a few months.

So our only focus is on creating a game that is fun enough that people want to come back and play more, and to be able to continue to create enough content in the future that people want to keep coming back over and over. It doesn’t have to be the only game they play, just as long as we are one of the games they love playing and continue to keep in their library of MMORPGs.

Whether we end up with 50,000 subscribers or 5 million subscribers, our objective as a company will remain the same; putting our heart and soul into the project and doing everything we can to make as fun of a game as possible with lore that is rich enough and deep enough to keep folks coming back for more.

Thanks once again to Saga of Lucimia’s Tim Anderson for speaking with us.
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